Open is open to those who make it in
WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- For the guys who do this for a living, who travel around the country playing tournaments before big crowds and for even bigger money, the idea of a 36-hole event just to get into another one understandably has little appeal.
More than a few touring pros have turned off the alarm and gone back to sleep, or called in their regrets or just failed to show altogether. Some pack it in after nine or 19 holes, knowing their chances of making it into the U.S. Open field have drowned in a pond or sailed out of bounds.
At this qualifying site outside of Columbus on Monday, the dreamers are in shorter supply, the 120-player field filled with more than 50 PGA Tour pros and assorted others who have had their time in the big leagues or are fighting their way back.
Because of the nearby Memorial Tournament, the United States Golf Association typically schedules its biggest qualifier for Ohio, where 120 hopefuls teed off early Monday morning, hoping to secure one of 15 spots in next week's Open at Merion.
It was one of 11 such sectional qualifiers staged around the country on Monday, with 824 scheduled to start and only 56 advancing to the 113th U.S. Open. It might seem like a lot of effort, a lot of angst, but last year 32 players who advanced through the sectionals made the cut, with seven finishing among the top 25 and two in the top 10.
It is always a mystery who so many top-notch tour pros skip these qualifiers, guys who could win a tournament on the PGA Tour but forgo a chance to perhaps win the U.S. Open.
Four years ago, Lucas Glover advanced through sectional qualifying and went on to win the U.S. Open at Bethpage. In 2005, Michael Campbell's wife talked him into showing up at a qualifier in the United Kingdom. He made it through, then won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Still, Josh Teater played 72-hole PGA Tour events each of the past two weeks. Prior to that, on May 20, he competed in a 36-hole Open Championship qualifier in Texas, where he was medalist and earned a spot at Muirfield in Scotland, where he was to make his major championship debut.
That is until he did it again Monday at the Links Golf Club and Brookside Golf Club, the two qualifying venues here. He shot rounds of 63-71 to shoot 10 under and easily gain one of the 15 spots.
"I tried to treat it like it was just another round of golf, not to think too much about what is going on, and see what happens," he said.
Still, for Teater, 34 years old and in his fourth year on the PGA Tour, this was a bit of a grind. That's why he tried to liven things up a bit after he had, amazingly, made eight consecutive birdies in his morning round. Having missed a putt for a ninth straight birdie, Teater mockingly threw his hat to the ground in disgust.
Of course, just a handful of spectators were around to see it, and his playing partners wondered if he had anger management issues. "I think they thought I was serious," Teater said.
PGA Tour veteran Charley Hoffman took medalist honors with rounds of 65-68 to finish 11 under. Teater tied for second with Robert Karlsson, Nick Thompson and David Hearn. David Lingmerth, Brandt Jobe and Brendan Steele also earned spots.
And as if the day were not long enough, it took three extra holes to decide the final seven qualifiers.
For Steele, it will be his first U.S. Open. A third-year tour player with one PGA Tour victory, Steele managed to work his way into the final group with Jason Dufner two years ago at the PGA Championship won by Keegan Bradley. But he was not exempt for the U.S. Open and was coming off four consecutive missed cuts.
"I was really nervous," Steele said. "The most nervous I've felt all year. And I was nervous coming down the stretch. I've been scoring really poorly but dind't feel like I was playing as bad as my scores have been. That might have helped me."
What helped Hoffman was shooting 81 in the final round at the Memorial.
"That was an accumulation of bad breaks and a bunch of missed putts," said Hoffman, 36, a two-time PGA Tour winner. "You don't hit it well, and you find yourself making some big numbers at Jack's [Nicklaus] golf course.
"Frankly, I wasn't sure I was going to play in the qualifier. I didn't know if I would show up. I had been out six of the last seven weeks. That bad round [at Memorial] got me motivated, and Sunday night I decided I didn't want to let that linger. I had been playing too well to not try and qualify because I feel like I am playing well enough to win the U.S. Open. It's really satisfying to come back the way I did."
And, of course, he couldn't win the U.S. Open if he's not in the field. Which is basically the point of Monday's nationwide exercise.